My life has had a theme of “longing” lately. Longing for things of the world: to be pregnant, to have financial security and creature comforts, to feel like everything is safe around me and I am loved. Praise the Lord, in the midst of it all, He has drawn me into his Word so that my worldly longing can have the proper context. God has asked me to allow my longing to be defined by who He is.
What is this longing that I feel? It is a direct result of the Fall. “Therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:23-24) Who can even begin to imagine the feeling of longing and sorrow that Adam and Eve experienced as they looked back over their shoulders to the Garden, knowing that they could never return to the paradise lost? Can any human being imagine losing the unique fellowship that our original parents had with God Himself?
The Israelites, our adopted brothers and sisters, experienced 400 years of longing for the fulfillment of God’s promise to them. “Then the LORD said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.'” (Genesis 15:13-14) Homeless, transient, living in tents, year after year, generation after generation trusting that God would not abandon them in their affliction. The writer of Hebrews further describes the faith of our Patriarch fathers: “By faith he (Abraham) went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:9-10)
Even Moses, after freeing his people from the Pharaoh, receiving the law from the very finger of God, and leading Israel to the banks of the Jordan would go to his death without entering the Promised Land. “And the LORD said to him, ‘This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, “I will give it to your offspring.” I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.'” I cannot imagine the bittersweet tears that Moses must have shed on the water’s edge as he gazed upon the land that he would not inherit.
The Psalms are full of the longing of the great King David. When I read his words I can hear his choked sobs as he pleads with the LORD to pull him out of the pit of darkness and not forsake him as he breaks under the burden of his pain. “O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart throbs; my strength fails me, and the light of my eyes–it also has gone from me.” (Psalm 38:9-10)
And finally, I am overwhelmed by the longing of Creation itself: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:18-23)
All of creation lives with longings not yet fulfilled. We dwell in the land before the promised land. We exist between the “now” and the “not yet.” And yet we too have a promise. “For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 5:1-5)
We think that we long for things of the world and that these things will truly satisfy us. But our true longing is for what was lost in the Fall–a return to paradise. “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (Psalm 42:1-2) We long for that which only God can completely provide.